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'David Hockney rocks!' - Visitor shares her unique experience of the Gallery

Lewisham resident, Poppy recently took part in a CoolTan Arts outing to the Gallery. She tells us in her own words about her day of tea, tours and art – including her thoughts on our recent Hockney, Printmaker exhibition.

David Hockney Rocks!

It was an odd day, tearful and sad. It was the last ever session with a psychologist who I had been working with for a year. It may sound 'poncy' to some, ‘Boo hoo, poor you, no more one-to-ones with a shrink’, but I’m sure others can agree, the emotional, physical and mental benefits that a good professional can bring to a person, post 'episode', or breakdown, can help repair a positive sense of self, and how to be socially active in the world. When things have gone so far down, our worlds can become fractured and broken, and help is needed to get back up.

Walking out into the warm, March sunshine, blinking, unaccustomed to the sunny daylight, I was determined not to get 'down'. Light bulb moment? Invitation on trusty I-phone, ‘come to the Dulwich Picture Gallery’, courtesy of CoolTan Arts. I had just seen a psychologist, so now was a good time to replace negative thoughts of not going with more functional ones, like 'actually why not go, and see what happens?’ This had to be good; somewhere to go, new people to meet.

The meeting was to be at 1.20pm so I had to keep on the road. 'Art for Art’s sake,' it had to be. On the plus side, the entrance to David Hockney was free -gratis!! No more lamenting the loss of said psychologist. There was culture and company to be had.

Clutching the pink folder Sue had given me (a synopsis of the work we had done; 'How to Manage Mood Swings', 'What is Paranoia?' etc.), tears were still streaming intermittently down my face.

‘Are you off to an important meeting?’ asked the cab driver. That was funny. ‘Kind of, I goes …

Walking a bit nervous to the doors, I was met by a charming person and introduced my aim: to meet a group for the David Hockney. ‘Oh, that must be the Tour and Tea’, she goes. Tour? Tea? ‘This gets better!’ thinks me, and off we two went, in hot pursuit of the CoolTan gang.

Gradually, the group assembled. A diverse, pleasant bunch, all were friendly and respectful of personal boundaries (these guys are good). The tour guide explained that the plan was, to look in depth at three of the resident paintings in the gallery, then a break for tea, and onto the Hockney exhibition.

Structure. It was all so well structured. Due to the nature of my mental health condition, I need, yea, crave structure. I have to structure each activity: ‘Then, after that, this will happen …’ Each task, work and playtime, needs to slot seamlessly to the next.

After a quick sashay into the room to deposit our belongings we’d be free to roam the gallery, un-laden with baggage. The room was spacious, light and airy, and a table was set with a great looking, tempting array of fresh fruit. We were offered cool water to drink and due to the early, summer-style heat, people gladly took up the offer of fresh mineral water.

On to the first painting and I was impressed with how knowledgeable the group were of art interpretation and art appreciation. The canvas came to life as the guide, and others in the group, talked and ambled through the story in the picture. The colours came to life and the 2D images began to almost form movement as the story, of myth and legend spoken, was interwoven for a most illuminating appraisal.

On to the second and third pictures; Rembrandt’s case study of a girl on a ledge and another of a young male, reputedly his sickly son. Again, the detail and the skill in how the paintings were constructed to produce a great work, was riveting.

Art has never really been 'my thing', it has always seemed 'over there', unobtainable, not for the masses, a 'posh thing', deliberately kept in closeted, highfalutin places, away from the more normal haunts of most people. Here was the antithesis of the belief system I had hung onto for so long. Here, the art was being explained in a language that was accessible and interesting! And as a group, we from CoolTan were treated exceptionally well. The guides were kind, pleasant, professional and approachable.

At one juncture the guide said, ‘I wasn't sure what you were going to be like’. ‘Horrible!’ retorted a person in the group, with a sense of humour and lack of malice. In essence, the guide had meant requirements for sitting or standing arrangements (I think), and portable stools had been strategically placed. One of the guides had picked up most of the stools and was carrying them.  I offered to help and she laughed, saying ‘We can display them like handbags’, in reference to how they were hanging on said arms.

On to the awaited tea, coffee, and fruit; ripe strawberries, green seedless grapes and black seedless grapes, with chocolate digestives and hob nobs, presented on white china plates ... bickies and tea -always pretty good, innit? CoolTan’s gang tucked in. It was all very ‘über’ civilised, sipping tea and chomping biscuits and fruit at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, and all served by our very own Art expert guides. What’s not to love?

Then, on our own devices, we were to take in the exhibition. With everyone genned up to the nines on matters Art related, and well socialised, people were happy for a bit of solitude and the chance to pursue their own ‘David Hockney fix’.

The exhibition was great, following Hockney’s work, from his prints to his painted stuff. It was fab! His lithographic prints were so prolific because the fumes from the acid he used for the technique kept him awake, so he would work ceaselessly through the night. The explosions of colour and the technical expertise fed the soul and were like a shot of adrenaline, in a good way, jolting me from my blues before suddenly, it was time to go.

Text from Olivia at CoolTan: ‘Did you get to meet the group?’

‘Yes’ was my reply, ‘Wicked’.

I'm telling you, and this is the thing, I never had such a good time in a long time. It was a good day. To see art in all its glory, and to be treated so graciously by the enchanting hosts, was great. Good stuff has a ‘knock on effect.’

As I was on the bus back to Lewisham, I realised that I actually felt OK -not fantastic, or brilliant – but OK is good. Culture and ‘high art’ act as a complimentary medication. Today, it seems like life may be consistently ‘peachy’.


CoolTan Arts is a mental health and arts charity that believes mental well-being is enhanced by the power of creativity. Run by and for adults with mental distress, the charity aims to promote positive mental health/wellbeing, bringing about a change in how participants perceive themselves, enabling people to gain greater focus and to re-establish their relationship with society.